Electric Cars are Getting Even Cleaner, New Analysis Finds

Quarter-Million Sales Milestone and New California Law Expected as National Drive Electric Week Kicks Off

Published Sep 16, 2014

WASHINGTON (September 16, 2014)—Sixty percent of Americans now live in regions where electric vehicles (EVs) produce fewer heat-trapping global warming emissions per mile than the most efficient hybrids, according to an updated analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). In 2012, that number was just 45 percent.

“Electric vehicles are doing more and more to fulfill their technological promise,” said Don Anair, research director for UCS’s Clean Vehicles Program. “If we want to reduce transportation pollution and oil use, a big part of the answer is to be like Bob Dylan and go electric.”

Anair’s update to UCS’s 2012 report "State of Charge," finds that automakers are producing more efficient EVs. The average battery electric vehicle sold over the past year, for instance, uses 0.325 kilowatt hours of electricity per mile, a 5 percent improvement since 2011. The improvement in efficiency means that the average EV continues to achieve lower global warming emissions than the average new conventional gasoline vehicle no matter where a U.S. driver lives, and is the best choice for reducing global warming emissions for the majority of American drivers. 

“The amount of electricity you use to power a toaster oven for about 20 minutes can move a 3,000 pound electric car more than a mile,” Anair explained. “Automakers are making continued progress squeezing more range and performance out of their EVs.”

The analysis finds that electric vehicle performance improved in nearly every region. Texas and Florida both jumped from a 48 miles-per-gallon equivalent to 51 mpg while Arizona and New Mexico also made gains, going from a 49-mpg equivalent to 53 mpg. Those states, along with their coastal neighbors, are now home to EVs that can beat any hybrid on the market when it comes to reducing emissions, according to UCS’s analysis. Additionally, the Midwest grid, which covers several states in whole and some in part, went from a 39-mpg to 43 mpg equivalent, meaning EVs there are as clean as some of the best hybrids on the market.

An updated map shows how much emissions performance can vary for EVs, depending on regional electricity mixes. In California, EVs achieve the equivalent of 95 mpg. By contrast, EVs in Colorado produce the same amount of emissions as a 34 mpg car, the weakest regional performance in the analysis, but still better than the average new gasoline-powered compact, which is rated at 28 mpg. Residents of New York State enjoy the best EV performance, achieving the equivalent of 112 mpg.

The analysis is based on the most recent available 2010 data from the Environmental Protection Agency and Anair says he expects improvements in EV emissions to continue as coal plants retire and renewable electricity grows.

This news comes at the start of National Drive Electric Week, a collaboration among the Electric Auto Association, Plug-in America, and the Sierra Club, which is hosting events in more than a hundred cities to highlight the cost savings and clean-air benefits of EVs.

UCS experts will offer more blogs and analysis this week:

  • Earlier this month, California saw its 100,000th EV sale and the state legislature approved a bill that aims to bring 1 million EVs to market in the state by 2023 through programs such as car-sharing, rebates and building charging infrastructure. UCS senior engineer David Reichmuth will have ablog post later in the week about the bill, which should be signed into law soon.
  • Nationally, EV sales are expected to top the 250,000 mark when this month’s sales numbers are finalized, according to Joshua Goldman, a UCS policy analyst. Goldman will blog later this week about EV sales trends. A survey on which UCS worked with Consumers Union found that 42 percent of U.S. households with a vehicle could utilize an electric vehicle based on plug access, number of passengers and hauling needs.
  • Research continues on lifecycle emissions from producing and operating EVs. Rachael Nealer, an engineer and Kendall fellow with UCS, will bloglater this week about the latest research, which continues to bolster the view that EVs avoid far more emissions than they create when drivers use them to displace gas-powered vehicles.